Thomas Sankara

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Thomas Isidore Noël Sankara (December 21 1949 – October 15 1987) was a Burkinabé military captain, Marxist revolutionary, pan-Africanist theorist, and President of Burkina Faso from 1983 to 1987. Viewed by supporters as a charismatic and iconic figure of revolution, he is commonly referred to as “Africa’s Che Guevara”. From 1970 to 1973, Sankara attended the military academy of Antsirabe in Madagascar where he trained to be an army officer. In 1974, as a young lieutenant in the Upper Volta army, he fought in a border war with Mali and returned home a hero. Sankara then studied in France and later in Morocco, where he met Blaise Compaoré and other civilian students from Upper Volta who later organized leftist organizations in the country. 

In 1981, Sankara briefly served as the Secretary of State for Information under the newly formed Military Committee for Reform and Military Progress (CMRPN).  This was a group of officers who had recently seized power.  Sankara seized power in a 1983 popularly supported coup at the age of 33, with the goal of eliminating corruption and the dominance of the former French colonial power. He immediately launched one of the most ambitious programmers for social and economic change ever attempted on the African continent. As president, Sankara sought to end corruption, promote reforestation, avert famine, support women’s rights, develop rural areas, and prioritize education and healthcare. He renamed the country ‘Burkina Faso,’ meaning, “the republic of honorable people.” On October 15, 1987, Thomas Sankara was killed with twelve other officials in a coup d’état instigated by Blaise Compaoré, his former political ally.  He was 37 at the time of his death.